Viewing cable 08OTTAWA720, BIOGRAPHY OF HELENA GUERGIS, CANADIAN SECRETARY OF STATE
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SUBJECT: BIOGRAPHY OF HELENA GUERGIS, CANADIAN SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL TRADE
¶1. (SBU) Summary. Prime Minister Stephen Harper promoted Helena Guergis to Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and International Trade in January 2007 after she had served as Parliamentary Secretary for International Trade from February 2006. The 39 year-old Conservative Member of Parliament will lead the Canadian delegation to the Organization of American States' ministerial meeting in Medellin June 1-3, filling in for new interim Foreign Minister David Emerson. Critics have charged that she is "questionably qualified" for her present position, and have suggested that her appointment owes less to competence than to the Conservatives' need for gender and regional balance in Cabinet, as well as her status as one of few women in the Conservative caucus from Ontario -- where the government hopes to make gains in the next election. As a junior minister, she is not a member of Cabinet. She is unlikely to win promotion in a Cabinet shuffle expected this summer, and more probably will face demotion. End Summary.
¶2. (U) Helena Guergis was born on February 19, 1969 in Barrie,
Ontario, and completed a real estate program at Georgian (Community) College in Ontario. In the 1990s, Guergis was active in Ontario provincial Conservative politics, working as a constituency and executive assistant to Conservative Member of the Ontario Provincial Parliament Joe Tascona. She also ran a successful small gift-shop business. Ms. Guergis subsequently accepted a post with the Ontario provincial government under Conservative premier Mike Harris as a political advisor to the Ontario Minister of Education, and as a senior policy advisor to the Ontario Minister of Finance. She was elected Vice President of the provincial Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, served six years on its Executive Board, and ran unsuccessfully as a candidate for the provincial Ontario Conservative Party in 2003.
¶3. (U) Ms. Guergis moved to federal politics in 2004, when she
successfully contested the largely rural Ontario "riding" of
Simcoe-Grey, and served successively in Ottawa as opposition critic for Seniors Issues and for International Cooperation and the Canadian International Development Agency. She easily won
re-election in January 2006 and was appointed Parliamentary
Secretary to the Minister for International Trade in the incoming Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who then promoted her to Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and International Trade, with additional responsibility for amateur sport, in January 2007. Her priority files in this portfolio include women in trade, consular and diplomatic affairs, Afghanistan, the Global Commerce strategy, and the Prime Minister's Americas' Strategy. As Secretary of State, Ms. Guergis reports to both the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of International Trade, now jointly held on an interim basis by David Emerson. As a junior minister, she is not a member of Cabinet.
¶4. (SBU) Ms. Guergis has faced a firestorm of criticism over her performance in 2008, notably for revealing sensitive information about the pending travel to Afghanistan of Official Opposition Liberal Leader Stephane Dion in January 2008 -- which led Dion publicly to call for her ouster -- and then for perceived lack of attention to the consular case of a Canadian woman in a Mexican jail, whose file subsequently went to another colleague for successful resolution.
¶5. (SBU) Comment: Progressive on social issues, such as same-sex marriage, Ms. Guergis is considered typical of the more centrist -- Qmarriage, Ms. Guergis is considered typical of the more centrist -- and especially female -- voter the federal Conservatives need to attract in order to expand their appeal in the key province of Ontario if they are to win a future majority government. She remains one of only a handful of women in the Conservative caucus from Ontario. Ms. Guergis speaks English and French. She proudly claims to be the first Canadian of Assyrian descent in the House of Commons. Ottawa's parliamentary newspaper "The Hill Times" listed this one-time small town beauty queen as the second sexiest female MP in its annual ratings in 2008. She is engaged to fellow Conservative MP Rahim Jaffer, and has joked that uncertainty about when the next federal election will take place has repeatedly forced
her to postpone their wedding and to consider eloping. She is
personable and vivacious, as well as apparently pro-U.S., but
prefers to stick to small talk rather than discuss substantive
issues in her portfolio. She is unlikely to be promoted in a
Cabinet shuffle expected this summer, and more probably will face demotion.